ISRAEL FILM FESTIVAL 2000 Send This Review to a Friend
It's time once again for an opportunity to view some of the latest films coming from Israel, with the 16th annual Israel Film Festival 2000 set to take place February 23-March 9 in New York. It will feature numerous U.S. premieres as well as many other features, documentaries, TV movies and student shorts, in addition to panel discussions. Screenings will take place at the Clearview Cinemas 59th Street East Theater under sponsorship of the IsraFest Foundation, Inc. There'll also be special showcase screenings and panels at the Cantor Film center of New York University in collaboration with the Israeli Consulate and NYU's Bronfman Center.
So what's on tap? To get an idea I attended three press screenings of coming premieres, and found that "White Lies" is a mature effort to deal with impending death and a mother-son relationship, "Urban Feel" shows that Israeli films can get as down and dirty with sex as well as those of countries with more raunchy reputations, and "Vulcan Junction" reveals that Israeli filmmakers can stoop to plots as hackneyed as some of the old Hollywood stuff.
The son in "White Lies," a theater director who has returned to Israel after failure in Paris, is wracked with insecurity and has become seriously depressed. He lives at home with his mother, and when he learns that she is dying of cancer, he hides the truth from her. His efforts to care for her and his own anxieties are entwined, and the film, written and directed by Yitzhak Ruben, struggles to depict the fragile line between life and death, as well as the sometimes thin line between engagement in life and withdrawal.
Sharon Alexander is convincing as the conflicted son and Orna Porat earns our sympathy as a loving Jewish mother, cliches notwithstanding. There is enough angst for an entire festival, especially when the resentful sister who lives in New York reluctantly visits. But despite its heavy burdens, "White Lies" is a mature, sincere effort to deal with family emotions and such issues as loyalty, sacrifice and finding one's way.
Dying of cancer seems low key compared to the marital and sexual turmoil in "Urban Feel," a film inundated by Johnathan Sagall as writer, director and actor in the role of Emanuel, the irresponsible spoiler. Sagall, who is imposing looking in Yul Brynner fashion, plays a bi-sexual predator who has been off trying to find spiritualism, and a few boys along the way, after having split with Eva (Dafna Rechter). She is now married to Robby (Sharon Alexander again) and they are raising a son, Jonah (Ziv Baruch), who at eight is struggling to understand the screwed up adult world.
Emanuel returns unexpectedly and insinuates himself into the family life by asking to stay for a few days. As Eva is still attracted to him, her marriage, hardly in good shape to begin with, is plunged into crisis. Along the way we are treated to the practice of answering personal ads, Robby's involvement with perpetually sex-hungry Nelly (Asi Levy), an orgy scene of strangers copulating in a ramshackle building, to say nothing of the explicit sex scenes between Emanuel and Eva. Israel seems very busy these days.
There's more. Suffice it to say that although the film is making a serious, contemporary stab at the problems of loneliness and the direction aims for a raw realism, the characters become annoying after a while so that there's little emotional investment for the audience in the outcome. The most sensitive scene for me was from the child's viewpoint as he watched what was unfolding in the household with a disturbed, slightly bewildered expression.
"Vulcan Junction," the name of an industrial area near Haifa and of a pub that the film's characters frequent, attempts to explore the lives of young Israelis, but becomes mired in one of the big cliches of old Hollywood musical biographies. Should one member of a band, in this case a rock band, leave to seek stardom on his own when promoters only want to hire him and not his music-making buddies? This may be Israel, but the plot is just as corny and stale.
An effort at relevance is made by setting the story on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, taking it through the opening day of the fighting and then appending end-notes telling what has happened to the characters. Director Eran Riklis and writers Moshe Zandet and Amir Ben-David presumably are trying to show the problems of young people in finding themselves, whether it's the men grinding out their rock music or a young woman Dalia (Yael Hadar), aspiring to be a political journalist. But would you really want to follow the problems of these characters for very long?
There's much more in the Festival, of course, and you can check out such films as "Yana's Friends," billed as a romantic comedy about Russians who immigrate to Israel during the Gulf War; "Zur Hadasim," about couples with problems to face and "The Last Resort," a film that explores Israel's trajectory between the war in Lebanon and the agreements in Oslo.
For further information and tickets phone 212-532-2075 or 212-759-4631. For opening night gala tickets and Festival passes by credit card, phone 877-966-5566.